Friday, July 17, 2009

Topic: Standardized Testing vs.Teaching English

10-second review: Standardized testing does not test what teachers do..

Title: “Testing the Life Out of Language and Creativity.” A Salm. Language Arts (May 2009), 395. The elementary school publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Comment: Compare what English teachers do and what standardized test test. There’s a mismatch.

Speech: English teachers teach speaking: formal, small-group, interviews and debate. Standardized tests do not test speaking.

Writing: English teachers teach the writing process, including brainstorming, thesis, first draft, revising, and editing, including grammar and style. Although students are tested on grammar and style in isolation, they write essays on someone else’s topics, allowing little or no time for brainstorming, revision and editing. They must “write it right” the first time, while teachers teach them to re-work their writing until they make the product as good as they can make it.

Literature: English teachers try to help students appreciate the literature they read and its role in the development of literary history, with focus not only on interpretation and the techniques of literary language, but on the literary work’s relationship to their lives which gives the literature personal meaning to them. English teachers show the students how to use discussion as a way of understanding that literature can have several possible meanings.

On the other hand, standardized tests choose reading passages from different subjects—history, sociology, biology, chemistry, psychology, etc.—and often use trick questions as a method of testing “reading,” with only an occasional literature passage included. Cf. the SAT.


English teachers at their best teach process and product. Standardized exams test product—somebody else’s product—in writing and reading—no speech. In general, I have to conclude that standardized tests do not measure what the English teachers teach.

What relationship exists then between what is taught and how it is tested? What is the validity of standardized tests in measuring what English teachers teach? RayS.

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